Not so long ago I believed Amnesty International to be one of the good guys. Like many people around the world I am often confused by the many arguments thrown at as from government and the media. It’s not condescending in the least to say that most people are confused when it comes to ethics and morality, if it were there wouldn’t be a need in the university to teach academic courses in philosophical and theological ethics. All too often the moral and ethical questions that confront us are complex, and there is no shortage of contradictory voices telling us what to think. It may be simple when it comes to theft for its own sake. Thou shalt not steal. It’s wrong to steal. We get that. Yet in the real world things get more complicated. When is it right, for example, to kill another human being? Are there any grounds on which it is morally justifiable to torture a person? I don’t like violence. It turns my stomach, but I’m not a pacifist. That’s confusing. What about prostitution? Amnesty International has said that it is good for people in poverty to prostitute themselves, and millions of confused people delegate their moral reasoning to these good guys.
Call me old fashioned, but, as a Christian and as an autonomous moral agent, I believe that Amnesty has made and ill-informed and morally reprehensible decision and I was willing to shout this out to one of their frontline chuggers. Human relationships, according to Jürgen Habermas, have become regulated by money and power. The prostituted are people who have been denuded of their human dignity as ends in themselves, and have been subjected to a power relationship in which they are nothing more than instruments for the pleasure of the powerful. Humanitarianism, if it means anything at all, must be a commitment to the humanity of every person, and humanity is not cherished in any society where the poor are forced to offer up their bodily integrity for bread. In any ethical or moral schema where the dignity of the human person is paramount then the continuation of social and economic conditions which subjugates human beings to prostitution is a crime against humanity. When I was stopped by two Amnesty chuggers on College Green I was more than happy to spell this out to them, but, of course, they have already been sold the party line, and in a world where the secular ethic of dignity through empowerment (that is: making money) is the accepted norm I was the crazy one.